Vietnam

I wasn’t overly enamored with it the first time, but always wanted to come back having missed the South last time. And now at least I can say with certainty that I like the North much better! But I needed to fly to somewhere this neck of the woods from China, so it kind of all worked out. It definitely has been one of those stop-gap type places, and i’ve spent most of my week here with my head sorting out flights/all things India so my heart hasn’t really been in it. None the less:

Liked:

1)      From minus 1 in Beijing to 25 in HCMC, it’s warm again and my backpack is lots lighter with only my summer threads.

2)      Yoghurt Space. A giant frozen yoghurt chain, with choices of toppings so wide its like the Subway of the desert world or a big version of Pizza Hut’s Icecream factory. And who doesn’t love these.

3)      The Reunification Palace and Chu Chi Tunnels. Making history fun.

Disliked:

1)      Traffic/roads. When you actually avoid going somewhere, just because it’s not worth your time to cross you know it’s getting tiresome. Pass me Gilly T or Koh Samet (no roads) on the asap please.

2)      Apart from Yoghurt-ville and a posh bakery on the way to the War Museum, I have to say I wasn’t loving the food here.

3)      Currency. 30,000 dong to the $1. Come on, just make life easy and knock a few zeros off. Nobody likes withdrawing 5 million from the bank!

Where I stayed:

Bo Tung Xeo HCMC, Saigon Backpackers HCMC, Homestay Long Ho District, Vinh Phuoc Chau Doc.

My Tho/Ben Tre/Can Tho, Mekong Delta, Vietnam

This is the bottom South corner of Vietnam and a scenic few days detour to the Chau Doc Vietnam/Cambodia border for the slow boat to Phonm Phen. And for $30 usd for a little three day tour (with hotels/buses/grub too) it actually easier and almost as cheap as doing it the DIY way. Plus I fancy being mollycoddled and having someone organize me. Sometimes it has to be done.

We go via bus & boat to My Tho, Ben Tre, & Can Tho and along the way take in a bee farm (nice honey tea) a crocodile farm (kind of boring but you get to feed them). Oh and get this; Unicorn Island! Sadly names as it resembles one from the air (apparently) it is not, despite my wildest dreams, inhabited by the little fellas. One day i’m going to find one, mark my words.

We stay in a ‘homestay’ i.e a Vietnamese family home where they cook you a meal, and you hang out and pretend they are your rellys. It’s a little fake but still fun/different, with a nice mixed crowd of us. Like all good gatherings, most of night was overshadowed when our hosts busted out a huge plastic bottle filled with the local homemade ‘happy juice’ – Vietnamese rice wine. (Bit like fermented tequila/sake) Absolutely toxic.  We kept drinking till it tasted nicer. This never happened.

Cu Chi Tunnels, HCMC, Vietnam

This vast warren of underground dirt tunnels were the HQ for the Vietcong in the late 60’s/7o’s.  They spread from Cu Chi (2h from HCMC) right to the Cambodia border. They are made even more remarkable as they were dug on the whole by hand, and maybe the odd handmade trowel here and there.

Our tour guide (Ken) called us all ‘his family.’ The place is swarming with tourists and the guides all have pet names for their groups. We heard lots of ‘this way my brothers’ too. Ken talked gave us a lesson in Guerilla Warfare 101, in case any of want to start our own gory bloodbath, but I have to say he showed us some great tips. Here are my top three things I’ve learnt today.

1) The first is not war related, he told us on the bus on the way there. HCMC is home to 8 million people. And guess how many motorbikes? 5 Million. And all of these are in the last 36 years, since 1975.

2) He showed us a whole range of boobie traps. To give you a visual think of the classic ‘leaves camouflaging a bear pit’ with some bamboo spikes thrown in for extra gore. Very like Leo in the beach when he goes rogue agent and tries to wind up the farmers. Ken proudly demo’s them all, then proudly smiled when he showed us ‘his favorite.’ Macarbe hey, but you know if you are going to have a fave weapon of war, his was a good choice – more bamboo spike rotaries that speared you if you struggles then speared you harder if you were rescued too. Nasty.

3) Now this one is genius. Those clever Vietcong not only fashioned some fetching flipflop shoes out of old tyres. You can but these for $2 and apparently they last you years. BUT they designed them so that they look back to front. In other words, when they were walking away, and American troops tracking their steps, it looked like they were walking backwards! No wonder it took the best part of 10 years to defeat them. Dragon’s Den anyone.

After this surprisingly decent tour, we had a horrible 15 mins at a shooting range where men with inadequacy issues can pay 300,000 dong to fire 10 bullets from an AK43. Insensitive if you ask me, and unnecessarily loud.

Then we separated the wheat from the chaff when we got the chance to crawl through one of the 100m tunnels. They have widened it slightly to accommodate fat Europeans, and ironically Americans, and there are ‘get out’ hatches every 20 meters as apparently most people freak. There are sections where it’s so slim you have to slide down feet first and it’s obviously baking hot down there too. Only 4 /26 of us (yeah that includes me, did you expect anything less!) were good little Vietcong and finished the job. It’s a tiny glimps of the horrific claustapobia and ventilation issues that women and children had to suffer, sometimes up to 10 meters deep. But without taking anything away from the tourist trap it is today, after Potosi mines in Bolivia with its dangerously illegal digging and the small dynamite factor, Cu Chi is Disneyland.

Reunification Palace & War Remnants Museum, HCMC, Vietnam

I always wanted to come to HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City) after skipping it last time. Now I’m here, I have to say; I prefer Hanoi! It’s ok here, but Hanoi has the lake. You can’t beat a city built around a nice lake. And the water park, you definitely can’t beat a water park.

So, I know I have been a total War junkie this month, but today I visited one of the most interesting sights ever. The Reunification Palace stands between Pham Ngu Lao & Dong Khoi in the centre of the city. It is famous for the iconic moment when Communist North Vietnam tanks smashed through the iron gates in 1975, ending the war. The place is frozen in time to that very day, with everything inside remaining untouched. How fascinating is that! I mean obviously they have pimped it for the tourists, but the decor is pure 70’s, and the whole place is like a huge, creepy, Bond villain’s layer. You are free to wander the four floors of preserved books, huge boardroom tables where world leaders once met. They had huge desks with military plans and old-fashioned telephones (black ones and special green ones that intrigue me.) Best of all a was a control panel with a huge RED button that was just aching to be pushed (and possibly a  WMD imminently launched.) There was a helipad on the roof and secret underground tunnels, the lot. I could have spent all day here.

(I took some nice black and white photos as the light was really cool, which are a good effort, even if I do say so myself. And since this blog has been starved of pics for so long, i’ve gona a bit David Bailey.)

Then we have the War Remnants Museum.  Everyone says it’s the better of the two so I saved it for last. And predictably it was terrible. Hundreds of tourists gauping at pics of Agent Orange victims, I don’t know, it just felt wrong. Hiroshima was similar in tone/context but because it was peaceful and quiet it somehow didn’t feel so voyeuristic? The only good bit was a stunning photography exhibition on the top floor; Requiem, showcasing the work and stories of famous war photojournalists.

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi in one word would be: ‘Beeeeeeeeep.’ Motobike cental. Crazyville.  The exception being the really pretty Hoan Kiem Lake in the middle of the old quarter, home of (possibly the best bit of folk law trivia ever) – Hanoi’s giant tortoise. Sorry, giant magic tortoise. Yes indeed. Something about a legend of a sword, and the tortoise restoring the sword to the lake?  They love this little guy here. They re-enact the story through the art of water puppetry in a nightly show. $2 well spent I thought.

Highlights: I should say the culture, the history, Hoa Lo Prison, Dong Xuan market. Or seeing my name everywhere in shops/cafes – ‘Kim’ is pretty big out here. Who knew. If I’m honest though, it has to be Ho Tay Lake Waterpark; the Disneyland of swimming pools and water flumes. A group of us rekindled our inner 10 year olds. Good times.

Lowlights: A little mafia fight situation last night. Four of us sat at one of the tiny beer crate table ‘bars’ (i.e some miniature Fisher Price furniture on the pavement.) Guy in a bling shirt rocks up on a pimped moto saying ‘Me Maffiosso.’ Ha ha, we laugh. He chats to the bar owner. Two mins later he comes flying over our heads, landing on the fisher price furniture, and a brawl ensues with some Jackie Chan character. Mafia then grabs two tiger beer bottles, smashes them for dramatic effect, rips off his shirt and then chases Jackie into an ally. That’s the last we see of them. We re-arrange our furniture and carry on with our beers, we are all Northern after all.

Previous Older Entries

An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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